Through two weeks, the New England Patriots passing attack has featured little play-action. Against Miami, the Patriots ran just two play-action passes. In Week 2, that number increased ever so slightly running it five total times. Their seven total attempts through two weeks rank dead last in the league.
While the concept would seemingly help the Patriots offense, the low usage could result in matching up with two aggressive defenses to begin the season. Facing Miami, New England is quite familiar with their blitz-happy tendencies. The Miami Dolphins blitzed Jones 10 total times in Week 1, the same amount the Pittsburgh Steelers sent extra attackers after the sophomore quarterback on Sunday.
Speaking with reporters Monday morning, Bill Belichick alluded to the fact that play-action does not provide the same benefit against blitz-heavy opponents.
“If a team’s blitzing, I don’t know how much the play action really affects the defense,” Belichick said. “The guys that are blitzing are going to blitz and, generally speaking, depending on the exact nature of the play, but generally speaking, backs are still involved in protection so if there’s any kind of blitz, there’s no fake anyway, the back would just have to go pick up his blitz protection assignment. Otherwise, that guy’s going to become free. There’s really no fake anyway in a situation like that, and the quarterback knows that.
“I think if you’re going to get a lot of blitzing, I’m not sure what the effect of the play action really is unless you’re trying to bootleg and get outside, something like that.”
The game plan was similar to what the Patriots executed in the preseason. Facing an ultra-aggressive Giants defense that blitzed New England 21 times, New England did not roll out any play-action passes.
Besides the aggressive defenses, Belichick noted the appeal for play-action also takes a hit against teams that rely on man-to-man coverage. Facing two teams that play heavy man-to-man in Miami and Pittsburgh was just another reason New England put the concept on the back burner.
“It’s a little bit the same in man coverage. How much real effect are you going to get in man coverage? They have their guys anyway, sometimes you can sneak a tight end or another player out against man coverage when they’re playing the run,” Belichick explained.
“I’m not saying they’re bad plays, I’m just saying that’s kind of what you’re weighing is how much extra pull are you going to get from the fake, versus what are you going to give up in your protection assignments and how aggressive do you want to be with your line, faking the run when you’ve have guys that are blitzing and penetrating up field that you have to pass block. That’s the decision you have to make.”
Appearing on WEEI’s Merloni, Fauria, and Mego on Monday, quarterback Mac Jones shared a similar belief.
“Every defense is different, you kind of have your different types of plays you want to try and sometimes you just stay away from them cause some of the problems they can cause,” Jones said. “There’s sometimes more cons then there are pros. As a play-caller, I guess the thing is when you’re coming up with plays as a coaching staff they have to decide is this really going to outweigh the cons. I think that’s been a lot of stuff the past couple weeks.”
While the matchups have not been in their favor to start the season, the Patriots offense would benefit from increased usage of play-action moving forward. As execution and familiarity improve within the offense, the hope for more misdirection rises.